The Next Generation
Chapter 18

Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd

Summer, 1986

Ken was greasing the grain drill when Bob drove up and got out of his car. "You l-like a job?" he asked.

"What's the deal?" Ken wanted to know.

It turned out that Phil Wines, home from college had been working part time for the feed mill delivering fertilizer to farmers, when his girl friend from Spearfish Lake came up with a more interesting alternative, and he was gone like a shot. Now, at the height of the fertilizer season, Herb Anderson had found himself short-handed.

"I'll have to talk with Judy," Ken told him.

Ken and Bob explained to Judy that the job was part-time, and would only last a month or so. "But, it's maybe a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars we wouldn't have otherwise," Ken said.

"We could use the money," Judy admitted. "We've promised ourselves a vacation, and we don't have the money to take it. But Ken, there's still a lot of field work to be done."

"I'll just have to work on it in the evenings," Ken said. "But, the corn is in and sprayed, so that'd that out of the way. I ought to be able to get a good start on the beans today." Thus it was that Ken found himself, at seven the next morning, punching a time clock for the first time in his life.

The job, Ken admitted to himself, was even duller than he could have imagined. He spent the vast majority of his time in the seat of one of the Farm Center's pickup trucks, towing a heavy cart full of fertilizer, or tank of liquid fertilizer or anhydrous ammonia. Towing the cart's wasn't bad; they were just heavy, and the pickup grunted and groaned with the strain. Any kind of hill at all meant having to kick the truck into low gear, and struggle along with cars piling up behind.

The liquid fertilizer was even worse. The tanks were just as heavy, but the liquid sloshed around in the tanks if they were anything but brimfull, jerking Ken back and forth in the seat. Although the ammonia tanks were the easiest to two, Ken always felt the most nervous pulling them. Almost any kind of accident could spill the material, and it was dangerous indeed. The man who spent most of his time filling the ammonia tanks had scars from chemical burns to prove it. Ken had used ammonia, rich in nitrogen, on the farm, and had still hated it because of the danger. With less corn, and more crop rotation planned in the future, he hoped to get away entirely from the need to use ammonia, and keep to less dangerous forms of nitrogen.

One of the nicer thing about the job was that Ken got to talk to a lot of other local farmers, and compare their operations to his. It was an education in many ways. Ken picked up several ideas that he thought he might be able to use in another year, and he saw at least a few things that he swore he would never do himself.

Among the less thrilling things that Ken learned was that part-time didn't mean part of the day, it meant part of the year. He hardly ever worked less than ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, and occasionally fourteen. The overtime would be nice, he knew, but work on the farm was falling behind schedule.

After the first couple days, the only time Judy saw her husband awake was when he dashed into the house in the evening, grabbed a sandwich, and went out to get on the big John Deere, where he stayed usually until well after midnight.

After a struggle, Ken finally got the soybeans in, losing ground at every step. Judy tried to help where she could; she and Lydia sprayed corn and beans. After what Judy had learned, they were both careful to wear protective clothing and respirators. They barely got the pre-emergent sprays onto the fields before the corn started popping up, and then they had to stay up with Ken on the soybeans.

Judy and Lydia had other things to do, too. On top of the chores with the steers and chickens, as spring went along the two concentrated on planting their big garden. Potatoes and peas went in early, and as time went along, they were joined by tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots, onions, several varieties of beans of beans, spinach, broccoli, beets, lettuce, pumpkins and cabbages.

Ken was prevailed upon one Sunday afternoon to get the big no-till planter back out, and loaded five bins with varieties of sweet corn with different ripening times. He didn't tell Judy, but he loaded a sixth hopper with popcorn. One two-hundred yard pass through the edge of the garden, and the sweet corn was in.

That was about the only time Judy saw her husband that day, except for church. Tom had once groused about having to take the big duals off the 4630 for cultivating corn, so the Farmall was set up for the job. Ken hung the cultivator on the tractor, hooked up to an anhydrous ammonia applicator he had brought home from the feed mill, and began to cultivate corn where they had corn the year before.

The cultivating was slow work, and it was long after dark when Ken knocked off. Judy could hardly rouse him to go to work the next morning, but hat night, and for two or three nights thereafter, the only time Judy saw her husband was when he brought the applicator back up to the house to be refilled from one of the ammonia tanks he had delivered earlier.

The middle of that week, Ken brought home a different kind of applicator from the mill; this one, to apply liquid fertilizer rich in nitrogen. "Only a little to do tonight," he told his wife, "And then we'll be done with the ammonia."

"Tell you what," she said. "I'll cook you a good supper."

Ken came in from the field about ten, unhooked the ammonia applicator, and backed the pickup up to it. Judy had kept the fried chicken in the oven to keep it warm, but she had more in mind than that. She wanted to reward her husband for his hard work, so she served up dinner wearing nothing but a very sheer, nearly transparent nightie. Ken broke out into a broad smile when he saw her, and wolfed down his supper, but when the crawled into bed, he gave her a big kiss -- and promptly fell sound asleep.

Ken apologized the next morning, and Judy felt she understood -- but the schedule her husband was keeping was taking all the fun out of life, and she didn't know what she could do to help.

She went out to do the chores, then looked at the garden. For once, there wasn't anything to do. Back in the house, she began to feel guilty that Ken was out working so hard, and she didn't have that much to do.

She drummed her fingers for a while, then picked up the phone and called Roger Griswold. "Roger, I'm starting to get worried about Ken," she said. "He's working so hard he barely gets any sleep. Now, he's got to cultivate and side-dress corn, and the corn is almost too deep. Can you come down here and show me how to do it?"

Griswold spent half an hour getting the rig set up and hooked up, and then two hours showing Judy how to do the work and transfer the liquid fertilizer to the applicator tank.

It was exacting driving, even as familiar as she was with the old tractor. She didn't dare drive more than a few inches off line. In the beginning, she could only drive very slowly, but as her confidence increased she began to go a little more quickly. The old tractor hummed along, not very fast, but every foot she covered was one that Ken wouldn't have to do.

Ken came home that evening ready to tie into the work, but dreading it, all the same. He knew that he hadn't been giving Judy the attention she deserved, but was glad she'd been understanding. He was out of the truck and heading for where he had parked the H, before he realized the tractor had disappeared, along with the liquid applicator. "Now what?" he wondered.

He drove across the road, and went into his house. It was empty; Judy wasn't around anywhere. Now, that was puzzling.

Back across the road, Ken asked his mother, "Where's Judy? For that matter, where's the H?"

Lydia smiled. "Judy's out on the Duck Farm, cultivating."

Ken got back in the truck and drove over to the Duck Farm. From the road, he could see the Farmall working at the back of the field, so he drove down the lane to the end of the row Judy was working on. As he waited for the tractor to come to the end of the row, he looked over her work with a critical eye. Not bad for a beginner, he thought.

After lunch, Judy had decided to work on her tan, so she had worn her most diminutive bikini out to the field. After she'd gotten away from the road, she'd even taken off her top and tucked it under the strap that held her crutches on the tractor. Even though he knew his wife liked her suntan, Ken was surprised to see his wife drive up on the tractor topless.

"All right, Crip," he said. "You've done fine. I'll take it from here."

"The heck you will," Judy shouted back over the H's exhaust. "I can't drive the pickup. There's about an hour's worth of liquid left in the tank. Why don't you go up and thaw us out a pizza?"

"All right," he said. "Just remember one thing."

"What?"

"Put your top back on when you get back out to the road."

"All right," she said. "You just remember one thing."

"What?"

"We've got some unfinished business from last night to take care of."

As Judy drove the H back up to the house, an interesting idea came to her. She took a quick look each way up the road; nothing was coming. There were no strange cars in their yard, either. She smiled, and slipped her top back off before she drove in the driveway. Before she went into the house, the bikini bottom came off, too.

The pizza went up in smoke again.

Judy's tan was coming along nicely -- except for her bottom and the back sides of her legs -- when she came into the house a few days later and called Ken at the feed mill. Wonder of wonders, he was there. "We need just a little more 28," she said, referring to the liquid fertilizer she had been applying. "We're going to be about three acres short."

"I'll bring a little when I come home," he promised. When he drove their pickup into the yard that evening, Judy couldn't see any sign of a tank, or even a barrel. "Where's the 28?" she asked.

"I got to thinking about it," Ken said. "On a patch that small, there's something I want to try."

They unhooked the applicator, and Judy drove the H down to the small patch on the Johnson place, while Ken followed in the pickup. Once in the field, Ken stood on the drawbar, facing backward, with an old-fashioned clover spreader strapped to his shoulders.

"What are you spreading with that?" Judy asked.

"Inoculated clover seed," Ken explained. "Clover puts out a nice shot of nitrogen. This is kinda related to an old Bromfield idea, and I'm just a little curious to see how this will work."

As Judy finished cultivating the corn, Ken spread a light coating of clover seed behind the tractor. "Well, we shall see," Ken said when they were done. "Let's go home and see just how all-over your tan is getting."

"You're home early," Judy said a few days later.

"Yeah, the season is winding down," Ken replied.

"You want to get started on the hay this afternoon?"

Ken shook his head. "Let's hold off till the weekend. If it's just going to be you and me baling, we're going to be shorthanded. This weekend, we might be able to get Bob to come out and help."

"So what are you going to do this afternoon?"

"Something I've wanted to do for a long time," he said cryptically. A few minutes later, Judy was a little surprised to see the loader, with a long piece of culvert pipe balanced in the bucket. Ken drove it past the house, and down the lane to the back of Ed's 80. She could hear it working far to the back of the farm for a long time.

Curious, she finally went out, fired up the H, and drove back to see what Ken was doing. She found Ken using the loader to dig some dirt out of the creek bottom, and piling it in a tight spot. Suddenly, she remembered that Ken had said he'd like to throw a dam across the stream there sometime, to make a swimming hole.

Using the loader, the project didn't take Ken long; in a couple hours, he had stripped away most of the bottomland foliage and built a sizeable bank for the dam. He set the culvert in the top of the bank, and packed some more dirt on top of it.

Water immediately began to fill slowly behind the dam, and Ken set to tearing down a nearby stone pile and spreading stone on the bank. There was a little patch of gravel nearby, and Ken spread it along one shore.

"We'll have to wait a few days," he said. "And then we'll know."

A thunderstorm came through that night, and it rained heavily. Curiosity overtook them, and they drove the pickup out to the pond the next morning, to find it nearly full of muddy water. "Not much of a swimming hole," Judy said.

"The dam's holding," Ken replied. "It'll take the silt a few days to settle out. It's not the island, but we can come back here and go skinnydipping if we want to."

The garden was greening up nicely, and already things were beginning to ripen; now came the part that Judy had been dreading.

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